Here's a list of my Top 20 characters from my comics, both superheroes and supervillains. I've only been reading comic-books for around six years, much less than some veterans on this site, but these are the twenty characters that have grabbed me the most in that time. If anyone cares to read these posts, I hope you enjoy them, and stay tuned - I've got another fourteen more characters coming up. Comments, compliments, and criticisms are all welcomed!
"The whereabouts of Batman remain unknown. And yet… I can see him now, in the grip of implacable forces, innumerable foes. Somewhere without hope. In a place where all seems lost. And I know this. The enemy will look away, for just a moment, underestimating him for that single fraction of a second too long. And no matter how dark the night, there will be no hiding place for evil." - Alfred Pennyworth
If you looked up 'badass' in the thesaurus, I guarantee you that right after 'awesome' and 'baller' would be the words 'Bruce Wayne'. Batman has been my favorite character since I started reading comic-books, and while I admit that he can be overrated and portrayed as an annoying jerk, he still remains my #1 superhero. There's not much that can be said about the Caped Crusader that hasn't been said already. Batman represents the pinnacle of humanity, the apex of human will and endurance. He's the progenitor of all dark, loner vigilantes, the prototype of the entire school of 'no powers, just fists' superheroes. Batman is what happens when a man single-handedly devotes himself to one goal. And what happens when said man has enough money to build a bat-shaped supercar and a kickass costume!
Yes, he's one of this world's most well-known pop culture icons. He's had arguably the best success in every entertainment medium of any comic book character. His movies are critically acclaimed and commercially successful, his comics have had fantastic stories, and he's one of the few superheroes that non-comic-readers consider 'cool' or 'trendy'. But that's not why I like Batman so much. If you take all of that away, the gadgets, the villains, and break Bruce Wayne down to his core, what makes him so fascinating to me is the character's drive. How his motivation to stop crime makes him sacrifice everything else in his life. Most people would have moved on after watching their parents die in front of their eyes, but not Bruce Wayne. When his parents died, he gave up whatever life he could have had in a war against crime. He molded himself into a living weapon against injustice, so that no one else would ever suffer in the same way that he did. He chose to risk his life night after night in his mission to stop evil and save lives. Some would call that obsession, but I'd call that selflessness. And if that isn't the mark of a true hero, I don't know what is.
But aside from all that deep, philosophical stuff, Batman also rocks one of the coolest outfits ever. The jagged cape, the horned helmet, it all works together as a fantastic costume ensemble. Then there's his personality. The stern, no-nonsense, job first-pleasure later mentality is just so magnetic. He views his fight against crime like a soldier in a war, and his almost-military like demeanor makes him stand in contrast to other heroes. People often cast him as a 'paranoid loner' but I prefer to think of him as the hero who gets things done. And aside from that, I'm also a big fan of the fact that even though he's one of the 'grittiest-edgy' DC characters, his stance against murder is the strongest. He absolutely refuses to take a life in the way that his parents' killer did, and I really admire that. His social skills are a little iffy, but his moral compass is right on! Then there's his fantastic mind. A detective at his core; Batman's intelligence and wits have always been a draw for me. The times he's outsmarted a stronger enemy through sheer brainpower and resolve is incredible. Aside from all that, he's also got the best rogues gallery in DC (Oh, don't even try arguing about that!), and some of the most influential stories too (Can you say 'Dark Knight Returns'?).
Also, he has a kickass theme song. Every superhero should have a kickass theme song. It should be like...a legal prerequisite to being a superhero. NANANANANANANANANANANANANANA....BATMANNN!!
The Last Son of Krypton. The Man of Tomorrow. The Man of Steel. Superman is the epitome of the term 'superhero'. If you asked anybody to name the first thing that comes to mind when that word is mentioned, 9/10 times will you hear the name 'Superman' as a response. He is (with some pulp exceptions aside) the original superhuman protector, and the father of all other heroic characters in comics today. He was the blueprint that started it all, and Superman remains my #2 favorite character to this day. Granted, this might be a cliched choice, but I stand by the ranking. If Batman was the hero who taught me to never give up, Superman was the one who taught me that there's good inside everyone.
When I was new to comics, the Big Blue didn't seem all that interesting to me. Whenever he appeared, Superman came across as a generic brick character. The typical 'good guy'. He was so good, in fact, that other heroes would refer to him as the 'Boy Scout'. At the time, I was far more intrigued by darker characters like Batman, Moon Knight, or Hellboy, and Superman held no interest for me. I didn't see his appeal. At least not until I got around to reading All-Star Superman. That book not only remains my #1 favorite comic-book until this day, but it was also the one that converted me from a Superman skeptic to a fan. Something struck a chord inside me when I read All-Star Superman. As I read through the beautifully-drawn panels of that book, I realized something about everyone's favorite Kryptonian. Here was a hero who was friendly, but still tough. Strong and firm, but still gentle and sociable. Here was a man who had the expectations of the whole world on his shoulders, but who never gave up on his beliefs: in truth, justice, and freedom. Reading All-Star Superman, I had an epiphany about the Boy Scout and realized that...yeah, Batman is the hero that everyone wants to be, but Superman is the one you want to save you.
He embodies our hopes and inspirations. Superman, as his name might imply, represents the good in all of us, an ideal that we can all aspire to. Mark Waid put it best when he said that 'Gods get their powers when people believe in them. Superman gets his power by believing in us". And that's what makes Superman my second favorite character in all of comicdom. People always complain that he's too powerful, that he's too perfect, but that's what makes him so awesome to me. I don't enjoy the nu-52 Superman with his angsty self-doubt, but the confident and sociable Superman from pre-Flashpoint is the one who feels deserving of the title 'Superman'. He's SUPPOSED to be perfect, in a way. That's not to say he can't feel doubt, or sadness, or hurt, but that he never loses faith in what he believes in. To me, the measure of a man isn't in how many cool one-liners he says, or how many people he can kill in slow-motion, but in both his integrity, and how willing he is to stand up for the things he believes in. And ordinary people like you and me are what Superman believes in.
But aside from all of that sentimental mush (it's nothing, just something in my eye), there are other aspects to Superman that the kid inside me loves as well. The classic red and blue tights (as drawn either by Quitely, Gary Frank, or Curt Swan) that every superhero costume owes tribute to, the innumerable array of powers that he wields, the awesome Christopher Reeve movie (and a new one's coming out this year, too!), and the classic John Williams theme are all part of the character's appeal to me. Then there's the groundbreaking stories that he's produced (favorites for me include All-Star Superman, Superman and the Legion of Superheroes, For the Man Who Has Everything, and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow) as well as the fantastically cheesy villains he has (Luthor, Braniac, Parasite etc). But as one might surmise from the paragraphs above, the biggest lure of the character to me is still his moral compass and personality. Superman proves that just because you're a 'nice guy' doesn't mean you have to be a wuss. After reading so many comics about unflappable badasses, it's nice to read about a hero who not only whoops bad guys on a daily basis, but also one whom you could imagine hanging out with!
|3. Captain America|
WHEN CAPTAIN AMERICA THROWS HIS MIGHTY SHIIIIIIELLLDDDD....
First off, let me just preface this by saying that I'm not an American. I don't have any particular allegiance to that country (Keep up the great comics and movies though, guys!), and I don't really have a patriotic connection to the Captain either. But what makes Steve Rogers my third favorite superhero is the idea, or the concept, that he represents. In the words of Captain America himself, he's loyal to nothing but the Dream. He's not a lapdog of the US government, and he's not just another soldier fighting for his country (No disrespect to any servicemen and women here!). But rather, he is his country. He wears the flag of his nation loyally as a patriot, and while he might have started off as a propaganda statement, Captain America has evolved to represent every American or any human being who has ever felt love for their own country. When you tear away all of the politics and bureaucracy and red tape nonsense, when you mold a man who doesn't care for the demagogues pulling the strings but rather for the common people - that's when you have Captain America. Loyal to Americans and to what America means. As cheesy as it might sound, I think that we all have a little Captain America in us (That's the cue to start humming 'For the land of the freeeee', by the way).
But that's not the only reason why I love the Captain. The second main draw for me is his origins. Superheroes are wish-fulfillment power fantasies, as many comic psychoanalysts love pointing out, and while Cap's origin is much like that, I think it goes a lot deeper. Steve Rogers was a scrawny orphan, always weak and unable to defend himself, struggling to make a living during the Depression in one of the harshest eras of American history. But his motivation to be Captain America wasn't to be stronger for being strong's sake. It wasn't a desire for power that drove him, or a desire to show others what he was capable of. It was a desire to do his part for his country. If being stronger would give him the opportunity to serve his nation, he would take it. Steve Rogers risked himself for an experimental procedure that could possibly kill him...all because he felt it was the right thing that an American should do. As Cap himself puts it in the First Avenger: 'There are men laying down their lives. I got no right to do any less than them'. Talk about 'Not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country', huh? There's a thing or two you can learn from a fictional character like that.
And his reputation is immense as well. He is the defining leader of both the Avengers and Earth's superheroes in general (When you think of the Avengers, you don't think of Gilgamesh, now do you?). Through the multiple decades of his career, he's led some of the most powerful superhumans, and when there needs to be someone calling the plays in the field - no one looks any further than the Captain himself. He's made some bad calls over the years (Seriously, why couldn't Cyclops and Cap just have a sit-down? Conflict-resolution skills, people!), but Captain America has proven time and time again why he's referred to as a living legend, and why other superheroes respect him so much. Everyone defers to the Captain on the battlefield, and while some might find that annoyingly Mary Sue-ish, I think the character has earned it. But aside from his leadership skills, I also love his personality so much. In a time where superheroes often have complex flaws and problems, Captain America - much like his own era - represents heroes from a simpler time. Back when there was black and white, and good and evil. When heroes were morally upright citizens who did the right thing and who never failed to stand up for their beliefs.
And then there's the costume. Oh Lord, the costume. Bats and Supes might be higher on my list, but the Super-Soldier's uniform is still my favorite. Thank you so much, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby! Everything about his outfit just screams 'superhero' to me. From the iconic discus shield, to the blue chainmail, to the 'A' symbol and wings on his head. Hell, even the classic buccaneer pirate boots. All costuming gold. When you see the red, blue, and white in a comic-book, you know that the Captain's here to save the day. And then there's his villains. The badass-looking Crossbones, the hilariously awesome Arnim Zola, the intimidating Baron Heinrich Zemo, and most of all - the devious Red Skull (Number 18 on my list!). And who can forget all the classic arcs and storylines that Cap has had, both in the Avengers and in his own books. Ed Brubaker's entire Captain America run is just one continuous line of storytelling awesomeness. An intriguing mix of history, patriotism, espionage, and the superhero comic-form at its finest. If you haven't read Brubaker's Captain America's run, I wholeheartedly recommend it. It shows Cap at both his best and his worst.
Also, as an amateur artist myself, I like how one of Cap's hobbies is painting and art. It gives a human touch to the Star-Spangled Avenger, don't you think?
OK first off, lower those pitchforks. Breathe. Give me a chance to explain. When I say that Cyclops is my fourth favorite comic-book character, I'm not talking about the present nutjob Cyclops. I'm not talking about the Scott Summers that runs around as a fugitive with a TRON visor. Or the power-deluded Phoenix Cyclops who killed Charles Xavier. Or even the annoying Cyclops that had that little breakup spat with Wolverine (Cyke would have totally owned, if not for the Sentinel, btw!). I'm talking about the Scott Summers who was a natural leader, who led the X-Men through their many victories and failures, the mutant who was the prize pupil of Xavier. The man who would one day lead an entire race of mutants on the verge of extinction, and win. That Cyclops. The Cyclops from the earlier issues of X-Men, from X-Men: First Class (the comic, not the movie), from Astonishing X-Men, from the Messiah Trilogy. That's the Scott Summers that I enjoy. Not the crazy fanatic currently running around with a giant X slapped on his face. But the born leader who couldn't even open his eyes, but whom commanded some of the most powerful men and women of the Marvel Universe.
When Cyclops speaks, people listen. That's the Cyclops that I remember reading and loving. And what made him so appealing was the fact that the people under his command didn't necessarily like or even respected him. Cyclops was a different leader than others of his sort (Captain America, Mr. Fantastic, Black Bolt); in the sense that while he did lead a team, he wasn't the untouchable icons that the other leaders were. He had more self-doubt than the rest, he felt out of control with his own mutation, and he was uncomfortable in the role of the top general at certain points. His marriage with Jean was messed up at times, he suffered through so many heartbreaks, and more often than not, Cyclops would break down and leave the X-Men. But that's what makes Scott Summers so fascinating to me, and so much more relatable. It's always good fun to read about leaders who are living legends in every sense of the term (Hi Cap!), but I also like reading about leaders who aren't perfect. Leaders who don't always make the right decisions, but when they do call the shots - sh!t happens. Here is a man who cannot control his one defining characteristic, his own mutation, and yet he controls a veritable army of mutants. A general who often stumbles, but who has proven time and time again that he deserves to lead all who wear the X. A fallible person, like all of us. Scott Summers may be a mutant, but if that isn't being human, I don't know what is.
And I know there's a lot of hate for the character, and in some instances, I can even understand why. He can be an obnoxious, insufferable jerk who's made some poor choices. Some don't like the fact that he's a straight-laced strict sort of fellow. Many prefer the more expressive or cooler X-Men (Hi Logan!), but I for one don't. I like how his control freak, perfectionist, in-total-command streak reflects on his inability to command his own mutation. I love how he's always the man in charge, the X-Man that other mutants always follow into the field. He's an alpha male, bitches! And he also has one of the most iconic powers in all of superhero comics. Red optic blasts and his visor are synonymous with Cyclops. Not to mention the plethora of awesome outfits he's rocked over the years (Thank you, Jack Kirby, Jim Lee, and John Cassaday), the different teams he's led, and the countless battles he's overcome. No matter the amount of manure that writers love to drag him through, no matter how many times he's been through the ringer, Scott Summers always comes back stronger than ever. And that's why Cyclops is my favorite X-Man and my fourth favorite superhero of all-time.
Also, I really loved reading General Cyclops. Was I the only one? It felt like a natural progression of his role; from leader of the X-Men to leader of an entire endangered species. Him in Utopia, laying out all the moves, was one of my favorite eras of the character. Heavy is the head that wears the crown, and all that.
|5. Moon Knight|
The hero who got me into comics in the first place. The spark that started the flame. The taste that started the addiction. The-agh you get the point. I was just an impressionable teenager when I stumbled onto a copy of Moon Knight Vol. 1: The Bottom. The incredibly detailed and dynamic Finch cover art immediately grabbed my eye, and I bought the comic, not knowing a single damn thing about the character or his history. All I knew was that he looked like a hardcore phantom of the night, and that my dad was willing to pay for it. Win-win, right? As it turned out, The Bottom was awesome (Hey! It rhymes!). And by awesome I mean, it seriously blew my mind. At that point in time, I was just a casual fan of superheroes, indulging mostly in the cartoons and movies, but this book fully converted me to the medium of panels and pictures. Moon Knight was the superhero that made me love superheroes. The Bottom showed me two things: One, that comics were a viable medium for storytelling and unbelievably wicked. And two, Moon Knight was a fascinating character, and the coolest dude to rock white since Travolta in Saturday Night Fever.
Many people view Moon Knight as this sort of ersatz Batman (Spector has a cave, a plane, moon-shaped batarangs, a grim identity, he's a vigilante of the night, he has no powers, he's rich, he has a butler, he has a sidekick who totally lost his sh*t...remind you of anyone?), and while I do agree with that to a certain extent, I think that it really simplifies who Moon Knight really is. Because all those similarities are superficial, related only to their physical appearances and modus operandi, and if you dig in deeper, you'll find that Moon Knight is a polar opposite of the Dark Knight. The first thing that probably needs addressing is his fractured psyche. Simply put, Moon Knight is not mentally stable. He is not sound in mind. He constantly suffers from delusions (Remember that whole Cap-Spidey-Wolverine WTF Bendis run?), he's prone to rage, he treats his friends like shite, and he suffers from dissociative identity disorder (or multiple personality disorder, if you prefer the more pop culture term). The guy has like four different identities all rolled into one tattered brain, and he borders on the sociopathic. And that's a really intriguing part of the character. I mean, how many insane superheroes do you know? As Captain America himself puts it, 'Castle may belong in a cage, but you belong in a straitjacket'.
And then there's the whole religion avatar priest thing he's got going on. This is easily my favorite aspect of the whole character. Moon Knight is essentially the servant of the Egyptian moon god Khonshu, and serves him in the way that a priest serves his god. Unfortunately, most of that 'serving' process involves crippling rapists and putting murderers into traction - all in the name of holy vengeance. The dynamic between Spector and Khonshu is probably best illustrated by Charlie Huston's run on Moon Knight (which the Bottom is a part of), and it's one of the coolest bits of the book. The two are constantly biting at one another, with an almost love-hate relationship, and it really depicts the dependent faith that Moon Knight has with Khonshu. Whenever he loses faith in Khonshu, the moon god screws up his life so bad until Spector comes crawling back to him. It's a twisted, disturbing relationship, and the best part is that no one ever knows if it's real. That's some top-notch storytelling right there. Moon Knight is not a vigilante like Bats...he's a religious fanatical zealot.
But aside from all that, I really love his costume as well (He calls them vestments. Creepy, huh?). As aforementioned, the Finch cover of Moon Knight - with his hooded cape and all-white ensemble - really snags your attention like nothing else. The monochrome look works on so many levels, both within the comic-book and pertaining to the character itself. I also liked the black-white look that Moon Knight had during the Moench/Sienkiewicz run.
Also, this has really nothing to do with Moon Knight himself, but I loved this quote from Khonshu. In one issue of Moon Knight, when Khonshu tells the crippled Marc Spector to stand up, Spector replies 'It hurts'. And then Khonshu replies with this gem: "I'm the god of vengeance and the moon. Not the god of whining and self-pity. Get the $%*$ up." Bad. Ass.
First off, let me just state that the Joker is a sick freak. Whenever I read about his murderous exploits, I'm not impressed, I'm disgusted. Everything that he does is repulsive, and he is the single most irredeemable character in the DCU. Whatever was once a man inside him is now gone, only to be replaced by this disturbing mockery of a human being. And yet, it's all of that that makes the Joker one of the greatest villains in the medium's history, and my sixth favorite comic-book character.
The Joker is the prototype for the 'psychopathic killer' school of supervillains. Any villains with the whole laughing butcher schtick owes at least some modicum of tribute to the Mistah J. The Clown Prince of Crime is the one who popularized the idea of the insane mass-murderer without morals in comic-books, and it's that same personality that makes the Joker so terrifying and effective as a villain. The Joker is like an ordinary serial killer turned up by several hundred notches. Frighteningly intelligent, entirely apathetic to human suffering, and willing to do anything to get under Batman's skin. Whatever his incarnation; whether it's the humorous trickster from BTAS, the scarred killer from RIP or the anarchic terrorist from TDK, two aspects of the Joker always remains the same. He's a murderer to the bone, and unquestionably insane. There is nothing even resembling a normal person inside his fractured subconscious, and human lives mean less than the dust of the earth to him. In a way, one could say that the reason why the Joker is such a scary and formidable threat, is that there's always the remote possibility that someone 'like' him might exist in our world.
But insanity alone isn't enough to qualify a villain into comics' halls of infamy. The other dimension about the character that ranks him so high on my list is his ever-changing personality. The Joker, for all his sick and depraved plans, has charm. If he was devoid of that characteristic, he'd just be another mass-murdering psychopath, but the perverse humor and sick jokes brought by greats like Hamill, Ledger, Moore, and Morrison have made the Ace of Knaves so much more than some other generic villain. The character's macabre comedic timing has elevated him from a gimmick to the Devil himself. He exudes presence in every panel and scene that he appears in, and his name alone rings volumes in the DC Universe. Then there's the twisted relationship he has with his beloved, the Batman. The two sides of a coin, one dark and one light, one serious and one smiling, the two enemies have been at it for years. There is arguably no greater rivalry in all of comicdom than that between the Knight and his Jester. As the Joker himself puts it: "You can't kill me without becoming like me. I can't kill you without losing the only human being who can keep up with me. Isn't it ironic?! I could never kill you. Where would the act be without my straight man?"
And let's not forget his feats, and the great stories that have been told with this twisted idea of a character. The brutal crippling of Barbara Gordon and the psychological torture of Commissioner Gordon in The Killing Joke, where the Joker scarred two of Batman's closest friends forever. The murder of Jason Todd in the Death in the Family, killing Batman's sidekick which would leave him guilty for years. Gotham Central, where the Joker began sniping innocent cops and civilians for pleasure. Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, where he trapped Batman in a twisted game of cat and mouse. The Dark Knight Returns, where he killed an entire studio audience and fought Batman in one of their bloodiest clashes. And comic-books are just the tip of the iceberg. What about his chilling portrayals in movies from acclaimed greats like Jack Nicholson and Heath Ledger? Or Mark Hamill's fan-favorite role as Joker in the DC Animated Universe. Sure, there has been the occasional flawed example (I'm looking at you, 'The Batman'), but for the most part, the Joker has had success in every medium he's been in. Sick as his feats may be, they have remained in the minds of readers everywhere.
Finally, there's his indisputably iconic appearance of course. That creepy rictus grin, the lipstick, the bleached skin, even the purple-green suit. All elements that make him one of the most visually enticing supervillains. The 'white dentist' look he had in Batman RIP was pretty intimidating too, as was the Glasgow smile/terrorist appearance that Ledger's portrayal in the Dark Knight had.
To cap it all off, here's one of my favorite jokes from the man himself. As the Joker watches the Batplane land, with Batman stepping out, he comments, "I think I see one of our stars approaching the red carpet. And he's in black - always chic." And then the Javelin lands with the Justice League, "But here come the fashion disasters." Priceless.
Stay tuned for Part 2!